Monday, January 11, 2016


 We liturgical Christians perform rituals,
            symbolic actions that mean something
-- though we are not precisely certain what they mean.
We are wise to keep our hearts and minds open
            about the meaning because rituals are a kind of dance with God,
                        in which God leads; we follow.
Even if we know what we mean,
            God may have something else --or something more -- in mind.

John probably intended Baptism to mean a cleansing from sin.
 But after Jesus stepped out of the river,
            something unexpected happened with a different meaning.
He was praying, perhaps asking God
            what his baptism was about,
when the sky opened, the Holy Spirit descended on him,
            and a voice from heaven said,
            “You are my Son, the beloved.”
So what does this suggest is going on Baptism?
It may have something to do with this:
I once heard of an old Bishop who had a spiritual practice.
At the start of each day he would look in the mirror and say,
            “Whatever happens this day, I am baptized.”//
His Baptism gave him an assurance he could count on
            despite all the up, down and sideways vicissitudes of life.

Here’s why: The waters of Baptism can represent many things.
But one thing they would surely have represented for Jesus
            was the primordial waters of chaos.
Call it entropy or Murphy’s Law. It’s the way things tend to go wrong.
That’s what waters stood for in antiquity.

Isaiah says in today’s lesson,
“When you pass through the waters
             I will be with you
and the rivers will not overwhelm you.” . . . .
            “Do not fear for I have redeemed you.
I have called you by name. You are mine.”

Baptism is God saying that to us,
“When you pass thorugh the waters
[when everything falls apart] I will be with you. . . .
Fear not for I have redeemed you. You are mine.”
 Baptism isn’t just us talking.
God is acting here too. God redeems us –
 buys us back from all the world’s chaos,
            all the powers of sin, death, and madness
                        that lay claim to precious human lives.
God redeems us from the world and reclaims us as his own.

That’s what we can take to the bank.
No matter what happens – no matter how badly we fail,
            when we are good and when we are bad,
            when we are wise and when we are foolish,
            when we are holy and when we are profane,
                        in the darkness or the light, we are God’s

Blessed Paul said it best:
            “If God is for us, who can be against us? . . . .
            What shall separate us from the love of Christ?
            Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine   
or nakedness or danger or  sword? . . . . .
            No. In all these things we are more than conquerors
                        through him who loved us.
            For I am convinced” Paul said, “that neither death nor life,
                        neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future,
nor any powers,
neither height nor depth nor anything in all creation
can separate us from the love of God
            that is in Christ Jesus Our Lord.”

To be claimed by God is to be set free of our burden.
The basic existential threat is resolved: we are already justified.

That doesn’t mean nothing bad will happen.
All those threats Paul listed – trouble, hardship, danger, famine, sword
--- all of that is real and may happen at any time.
Life and death will assuredly happen.
But they do not and cannot separate us from our fundamental well-being,
            the love of God in Christ Jesus Our Lord.

People sweat, lose sleep, spike their blood pressure,
            and wreck their relationships trying to justify their existence,
            trying to make themselves ok.
But guess what: that’s already a done deal.
In our Baptism, God has made it so.
God has set us free from bondage to the hopeless task
of justifying ourselves, making ourselves ok.

So what are we now to do with our freedom?
Once the Holy Spirit comes upon us in Baptism
            naming us as God’s children,
            what are we going to do with that freedom?

As Mary Oliver asked in her poem Summer Day,
            “Tell me what is it you plan to do
            with your one wild precious life?”

Well that’s exactly what Jesus was wondering
            after he got the good news,
“You are my Son, the Beloved.”
He was so perplexed about it that he had to spend
            40 days out in the desert praying on it.
Only after all that prayer did he figure it out.
He came back from the desert with the answer.
Now listen up because if you call yourself a Christian,
            his answer is your answer too.

Jesus said:
            “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me
            because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor,
            . . . freedom to the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind,
            to set the oppressed free . . . .”
In Baptism, God claims us as his own,
            breaks our chains and gives us
                        “our one wild precious life.”
We are redeemed. We are ok.

But whether the life we live with that freedom
            amounts to a hill of beans is still up for grabs.
To make our lives as holy as our redeemed souls,
            we take the next step.
We give our lives back to God.
That’s Confirmation.

We take vows to live in the Spirit that sets us free,
            the Spirit that “proclaim(s) good news to the poor,
            . . . freedom to the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind,
            (and) sets the oppressed go free . . . .”

We stand up to our God eyeball to eyeball and promise
            “to proclaim by word and deed the good news of God in Christ,
to seek and serve Christ in all persons,
            to strive for justice and peace among all people
            and respect the dignity of every human being.”
 If we make those promises without our fingers crossed,
            it will change our lives, our whole lives,
            our family lives, our friendships, our politics.

If 10% of the Christians took those vows for what they are
            -- a chance to live a life that counts --
            we’d do what those first Christians in Acts were accused of doing.
We’d turn the world upside down,
            which Bishop Curry reminds us is really right side up.

Now I’ll close with a word of wisdom  and a question.
The word of wisdom is from Ralph Waldo Emerson.
He said:
            “The purpose of life is not to be happy.
            It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate,
            to have it make some difference that you have lived
                        and lived well.”
 I’ll leave you with that and Mary Oliver’s question:
            “(W)hat is it you plan to do
            with your one wild precious life?”